If you’re familiar with the importance of symbolism over substance in Norn Iron politics, you won’t have been at all surprised at the row that’s broken out over the memo from new regional development minister Conor Murphy (Sinn Féin Nua), who prefers to refer to “Northern Ireland” as “the North” or “here”, and a village in the North West as “Derry”. This was splashed on the front page of yesterday’s News Letter as an enormous scandal, as if Conor had instructed Protestant civil servants to refer to the “Occupied Six Counties”. Well might Conor protest that the memo was only referring to speeches and documents to be drafted in his own name – and I believe him, because otherwise he’d be in trouble under Section 75 – that did not assuage the paranoid Prods jamming the lines to Talk Back.
Dunseith had Conor squared off against the DUP’s Gregory Campbell, who loves this sort of thing. Gregory, who himself comes from Derry, huffed and puffed about how a minister who didn’t use the exact form of words “Northern Ireland” wasn’t fit to be a minister. When challenged by a punter on his respect for cultural diversity, Gregory made a rather opaque comment which I took to mean that there wasn’t a cat in hell’s chance of Edwin Poots introducing the Acht Gaeilge, at least not without equal funding for Ulster Scots. Which raises the enthralling prospect of yet more staff manning useless hotlines that nobody calls. Can I get a job at the Boord o’ Ulster Scotch by any chance?
This reminds me of a brainstorm by David Trimble (remember him?) when he first took over as head of our toy administration. The Civil Service doesn’t have a firm rule on this, but there is an informal rule of thumb that you can address letters to either “Derry” or “Londonderry” (or I suppose “Doire Cholmcille”) according to what form your correspondent prefers. Trimble tried, and failed, to bring in a directive which would ensure that all official correspondence would go to “Londonderry”. Since even Derry Prods refer to their home town as “Derry”, and “Londonderry” is only used by unionists with a point to make, the subtext was obvious.
Meanwhile, Róisín McAliskey has got arrested again, on an extradition warrant so old it could nearly be written in Latin. What the German authorities think they’re playing at, and who stands to gain from reopening this case, beats me. But the thing that struck me was the feeble response from Francie Millions, who reckons the peelers should be spending their time enforcing law and order. Thus the revolutionary party.